Tiny Lands review: serene spot the difference

Tiny Lands is the video game equivalent of sitting at your dining room table on a lazy Sunday morning doing the puzzles in that day’s edition. There’s something to be said about games that have a zen-like calmness to them that has you finding the joy in a little quietude. There’s something more to be said for those that take a tried and true concept and give it new life.

At its core, Tiny Lands is a game in which all you do is compare and contrast two mostly matching images and discern the minute differences: a different colored leaf here, an errant log there. It facilitates a certain kind of focus, a mindfulness that feels satisfactory when you’ve tested your senses. The difference is where your stock standard ‘spot the difference’ puzzles are 2D pieces of art printed on some cheap, pulpy paper. Tiny Lands takes that notion and puts it to a dioramic 3D scene that you can then rotate and zoom in on to find those devious differences.

Part of the draw of Tiny Lands is the low-polygon visuals that permeate it. That’s not to say it’s also light on details, just that characters and objects have a pleasant simplicity to them. There are a handful of level sets, each themed after different areas such as forests, oceans and wintry lands. Within this theming are different plays on the same concept; one forest level has two knights guarding a trove of potions on a wagon, while another has a woman cooking fish over a fire in front of a cabin. Complementing it all is a subtle soundtrack that’s easy on the ears, if slightly unmemorable, and ambient noises that pull you in with their naturalistic feel. This is good, because Tiny Lands is a game all about looking at things constantly.

The control scheme is easy to grasp; you use the left analog stick to rotate and zoom the camera around the scenes and the right stick (or your finger on the touch screen) to move a magnifying glass over things you find odd in order to ping them as different. I wish you could also pan and rotate the scenes as well, because the zoom tends to obscure the outer areas, and certain item differences are so minute that having more angles on the situation would have made them easier. It’s not like you’re timed or anything, so you can take it all in for as long as you need, but having full control of the camera would have helped me to enjoy it more and maybe even appreciate the dioramas to boot.

Tiny Lands isn’t an experience you should binge play, because you start to catch similar things in multiple levels that break the immersion a bit – plus I tended to get irritated a little quicker when I struggled to find that one last difference. It works well as an appetizer or chaser to other games, as a way to settle in or settle down, depending on your predilections.

Unlike a good crossword puzzle book, Tiny Lands is something you can come back to when it’s all said and done. Give it enough time and you’ll likely forget where everything is and challenge yourself again. Also like a good puzzle, there’s this fun sense of accomplishment in finishing one. I’m all for action and excitement in my video games, but sometimes it’s nice to get comfy and relax with one, too.

Tiny Lands was developed by Hyper Three Studio, and it’s available on PC and Switch. We played the Switch version.

Disclosure statement: review code for Tiny Lands was provided by QubicGames. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.

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